November 29, 2016 Practice Points

Six Tips to Help You (And Your Client) Connect with a Jury

By Emily J. Kirk

In early November, I attended the ABA Section of Litigation Woman Advocate Annual Meeting in Kansas City, MO where I picked up several useful tips from seasoned litigators on how to connect with juries:

1. Thanking the Jury for Its Service
Many attorneys start their opening comments by thanking the jury for its service, while others prefer to jump right in to their “story” and thank the jury later in the trial.  Ultimately, it does not matter when you do it – but you should do it.  Being nice resonates with the jury.  You don’t have to belabor the point (juries don’t want you to waste their time), but you should thank the jury for its service in a meaningful way at some point during the trial.

2. Humanizing Corporate Clients
If you are representing corporate client, you need to figure out ways for the jury to connect with your client.  You can start by making sure the corporate representative who sits at the table with you comes across as authentic.  The representative should reflect the corporation’s story, and should be pleasant and respectful at all times.  The representative should appear engaged in the trial and should never come across as disinterested or arrogant.  Essentially, the representative at the table is the face of the corporation as far as the jury is concerned – and that person will make a bigger impact with the jury than any statistics that you present about your client’s charitable donations or good deeds in the community.

3. Communicating with the Jury
Polls of jurors after trials have shown that jurors find it insulting when attorneys instruct them to “use their common sense.”  Jurors feel that this type of language insinuates that they aren’t smart enough to figure out the issues raised during the trial.   Instead, spend your time educating the jury just as you educated yourself with your client’s case.  If the trial involves complicated issues, give the jurors a roadmap to follow, as well as a glossary of important terminology.  It’s your job to simplify issues naturally without making the jury feel that the issues are so complex they have to resort to their common sense as opposed to their intellect. 

4. Examining Witnesses
During cross, juries appreciate getting straight answers.  So as the attorney, you have to know your witness so you can get the jurors the information they seek.  You should ask direct questions that elicit direct responses – and if you don’t get a direct response, you should follow up.  This is where you can show your passion, but you don’t want to be so aggressive that you come across as beating up a weak witness.  Likewise, you also don’t want to be passive with an aggressive witness.  On cross, the attorney is the center of attention.  The jury is looking to you as the “truth teller.”  Don’t hesitate to keep the witness focused and on task - but never forget to use manners and show respect for the witness and the jury in the process.

5. Analyzing Instructions
Attorneys often worry about whether jurors truly listen to the instructions given by the court.  Accordingly, one suggestion is that attorneys talk with the Court to see if jurors can be given their own copy of the instructions so they do not have to rely on what they hear in court.  Also, if the Court goes over instructions prior to closing, you should consider incorporating and highlighting the instructions in your closing arguments so jurors know how the instructions work with the evidence.

6. Evaluating Damages
Jurors often use their own experiences to evaluate damages.   To avoid this and to keep jurors on task, tie damages to the law and what the jury has to figure out.  Keep jurors focused on the evidence and the verdict form during your closing.  If you represent the plaintiff, consider using a white board or something similar so you can visually add up damages during your closing. Show the jury want you want it to decide – don’t rely on jurors to reach your desired result on their own. 

Emily J. Kirk is an associate at McCuneWright LLP in St. Louis, Missouri.


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